Saturday, 20 January 2018

#52Ancestors, Week 3, Longevity

Back in 1987 when we gathered, four generations of us, to celebrate Nana’s 80th birthday she announced after she blew out the candles that

“I’m the oldest in my family. No-one has got as far as eighty before.”

Quite a logical statement, all things considered.

Nana’s parents had died aged fifty-seven & sixty-one and she never knew any of her grandparents. They had, all four of them died before her parents married. Her grandmothers both left young children at thirty-one & thirty-six and her grandfathers were still relatively young (by today’s standards) at forty-seven & sixty-five.

By the time of our celebration in 1987, both of her sisters had already died, leaving only her younger brother to potentially reach and exceed this grand age. Sadly though, he too predeceased Nana by just 6 months, the following year.

She did often talk about her Aunt Lizzie (who turned out the be Aunt Bessie, but that is another story). She would say she was a “remarkable woman who went to America on her own when she was SEVENTY!” So maybe? Turns out Aunt Lizzie was closer to fifty when she emigrated, but at seventy-four she did get a little closer to the elusive eighty.

Oh Nana, the things we have learnt in the years since you left us, as we have researched further. You would be so amazed.

Three out of eight of her great grandparents were in their eighties – not bad for people born in the early 19th century. Even more surprisingly six out of sixteen of her great grandparents passed eighty – two even going further and into their nineties! People born in the mid-18th century!

So, when I put these ancestors together with those from other branches of Mum’s family and from Dad’s, things are looking promising. A sister of my great great grandfather was just two months short of her 102nd birthday…in 1895! Living in the country can’t have been all bad back then.

In a lecture this week, life expectancy was discussed. Since then, there has been a fair amount of googling too, on my part.

When we see statements to the effect that life expectancy at birth was 33-40 in the 18th century and 40 in the early 19th century, it is easy to forget that that average age for adults was being driven down by the high infant mortality rate. It wasn’t that everyone would only make it to forty, there would always be exceptions. It was just that there were less people dying in the 40-100-year range than there were between 0-2 and 2-10 years of age. Reaching your tenth birthday improved your life expectancy dramatically.

I think I must have realised this before – because it sounds so logical now. But I don’t think I had considered it fully. How fortuitous that it was this week, coinciding with this blog topic.

How lucky we are today to have access to immunisation and improved health care for older persons.

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